Famed civil rights historian and author Taylor Branch calls it a modern-day civil rights issue.
“College athletes are citizens and their rights are being deprived by the NCAA in a way that’s basically collusion,” says Branch. “The NCAA system is not only unjust, it’s unstable. The NCAA is in perpetual scandal mode.”
New York Times columnist Joe Nocera said, “The current system basically screws a bunch of kids, a lot of them disadvantaged kids. They have a labor force that does all the work but doesn’t get paid. It’s a plantation system. This issue is about American values and the right way to treat people you have power over.”
What Branch and Nocera are talking about is the NCAA’s archaic amateur model, specifically the fact that while college athletes don’t get paid, the NCAA, college administrators and coaches, television executives and on-air personalities, and the shoe and sporting goods companies are all making a ton of money on the backs of the athletes that produce the product.
“It’s an unjust and unstable system,” says Branch, who wrote a landmark article entitled “The Shame of College Sports,” in the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic magazine.
There’s a basic fairness issue at stake here. Big-time college sport, basically football and men’s basketball at the Division I level, is a multi-billion dollar business. It simply isn’t fair that the athletes responsible for the product are limited to one-year-renewable scholarships that can be yanked at the discretion of the coach.
“The big issue is that everybody’s trying to deny there’s a marketplace here,” says Nocera. “They look at big-time college football and basketball like it’s an extracurricular activity like chess club. Look, if you pay the players, 95% of wrong-doing goes away. If you allow players to be paid, the booster stuff goes away. And who cares if an agent pays for Mom to go on a recruiting trip with her son?” (See: “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes“).
The question of whether or not to pay college athletes has been a sports issue for some time now. But it’s much more than a sports issue. As Branch says, this is a civil rights issue. It’s a social and economic justice issue.
“I think college athletes have been conned out of their rights,” says Branch. “The NCAA’s amateur ideals are contrived. The current system needs to be abolished.”
It’s really not that outlandish of a concept. The outdated Olympic amateurism model was eventually broken down. Olympic athletes can now get paid for their talents. The AAU predicted that all hell would break loose in the Olympic movement if amateur athletes started to receive financial rewards. In reality, the Olympic transition from the amateur model has been pretty smooth.
The NCAA continues to fight the idea of paying college athletes.
“As long as I’m president of the NCAA, we will not pay student-athletes to play sports,” says NCAA President Mark Emmert. “Compensation for students is just something I’m adamantly opposed to.”
University athletic directors are chiming in by claiming they’re too poor to pay players, that they’re simply isn’t any money in their budgets to pay college athletes.
“I don’t have patience with schools that say they can’t pay players because they don’t have the money,” says Nocera. “A lot of these schools pay their coach $4 million a year. If you can’t pay the players then get out of the FBS (NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision). Right now, the idea of paying players is a foreign concept in college sports. The NCAA can adapt. Major League Baseball (MLB) was against free agency. They adapted.”
It’s time — in fact, it’s past time — to abolish the college sports plantation system.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Episode #20 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Coaching Youth and High School Sports Based On What’s Best for the Athlete’s Holistic Development – We chat with long-time youth, high school and college basketball coach Jim Huber.
Episode #19 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Capturing the Spirit of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League with Anika Orrock – We discuss the hoops AAGPFL women had to jump through to play the game they loved as well as the long-term impact and legacy they have in advancing sports opportunities for girls and women.
Episode #18 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking about the 50th Anniversary of Title IX and the Lia Thomas Controversy with Nancy Hogshead-Makar – Hogshead-Makar is a triple gold medalist in swimming, a civil rights attorney and CEO of Champion Women.
Episode #17 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports With Legendary New York Times Sports Columnist Robert Lipsyte – We chat about Lipsyte’s amazing career and some of the athletes he covered.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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